Bullet journaling: How it sorted my life. And then I lost it

No longer was my head stuck in my phone when I should have been interacting with my family

As part of my vague aspirations towards self-improvement – which fall short of doing things that might extend my life, like giving up wine, or revisiting the crossfit class I was so enthusiastic about for five minutes last year – I recently decided to start journaling. Bullet journaling, to be all millennial about it.

A bullet journal – or #bujo if you give it the full beards-and-avocados treatment – is basically a pretentious name for a collection of To Do lists inside a nice notebook. If you had a fancy paper collection when you were eight, you’re the target market.

The beauty of a bullet journal is that:

* it’s not your phone, so there are no screens involved, affording lots of opportunities to take the high moral ground during social interactions


* it’s not your phone, so you have to write things into it by hand, meaning you’re less likely to forget them

* it’s not crossfit, but still has the whiff of a better you.

This, in any case, was the rationale to which I devoted most of an entire morning, when I really should have been tackling my To Do list, shopping for a suitable journal. It had to have blank pages and an Instagram-worthy cover, just in case I ended up becoming famous as a #bujo blogger (yes, there are people on Instagram who do nothing but post To Do lists to their 50,000+ followers, but let's save that deep dive for another day.) And then I spent what was left of the morning customising it.

The thrill of a bullet journal is all in the customisation. The first few pages are dedicated to the routine business of planning your year, your month and your day. Each item is a bullet point expressed in as few words as possible: “Call Barry B” or “Book smear” or “Crossfit”. At the end of the day or month, you either X it as done, ‘migrate’ it to the next day or month, or put a line through it in the weary acknowledgement that no, you’re really never doing crossfit again. The Instagram #bujo community never have smears to book or Barrys to call, I notice. Their days are filled with Brazilian jiu-jitsu and power ball and overnight oats.

‘This is very awkward’

The rest of the journal is dedicated to "collections", or lists of anything other than To Dos. Within a few days, I had many, many lists. They were proliferating as rampantly as Starbucks outlets in an upwardly-mobile urban environment. Lists of ideas and inspiration and things I really shouldn't have bought. Lists of my four-year-old's favourite phrases (currently, "This is very awkward.") Lists of things I heard other people saying. Lists of ideas I hadn't time to explore right now. Lists of places I planned to travel. Lists of books I have read, was going to read or was going to write. Lists of medical appointments I was going to stop putting off.

I carried it around with me. I scribbled in it in front of Netflix. I kept it by the bed. No more did I have seven notebooks on the go, an unwieldy desk diary, and 11 different apps in an attempt to impose order on the terminal chaos that is my life. No longer was my head stuck in my phone when I should have been interacting with my family. Instead, it was stuck in a beautiful, teal leather Moleskine notebook, which felt so much more admirable.

It was all going so well. And then I lost it.

It was one of those days when no amount of journaling could keep the chaos at bay. I was late for every deadline. I texted my childminder to see if she could stay late, and I finally stepped out for lunch at 4.45pm. It was drizzling, and I’d got a ticket for forgetting to put money on my car, and there was a man standing on the street corner shouting about Jesus coming back to punish us. I found myself in the sandwich place I never go to, and when I got in there and my nostrils filled with the smell of damp, and I noticed the line of dirt under the server’s fingernails, I remembered why. But there was no-one else there and I was embarrassed into ordering a sandwich anyway. When I get back to my desk, I thought, I’ll make a list of lunch places to avoid.

And then I got back to my desk and it wasn’t there. It wasn’t in my bag, or any of my other bags, or on the floor of my car, or at home, or in the office. And now all I can think about is my beautiful teal notebook, floating around somewhere, on the floor of a train, or the bottom of a recycling bin, filled with my brilliant ideas for novels and the date of my last period and the lists of shame (food shame, wine shame, emails-I-should-reply-to shame) and the lists of stuff my four-year-old says. Yes, this is very awkward.